Important Things to Know Before Your Ride Along
If you’re a part of an Emergency Medical Technician class, it’s very possible that you have to do quarterly ride-along. Ride-alongs are when you take the time to go to your local or approved fire station and ride with the working EMTs to get a feel for what it is like on the job. Riding along with an ambulance crew is something new and exciting that a lot of emergency department workers never get to see. While it is a brand new experience and it is meant to be fun, you’re also there to learn and figure out whether working as an EMT is really what you want to do in the future. I got the chance to ride alongside IEMS, or Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services. Here are some of the important things I did and learned in my ride-alongs.
First things first, be on time! No one wants to wait for someone who can’t respect the time, and calls from dispatch certainly won’t. If your EMTs get a call and you aren’t there, they will leave you behind, and that’s not a good first impression. Also, everyone has a different set of EMTs you may be working with, so ask what their expectations are. If it’s your first ride-along, you’re more likely to be hanging back and observing for a couple of runs - that’s okay, as early on in the year you don’t know as much content. If it’s your third or fourth run, some EMTs may expect you to dive right in. You’ve already learned some things, now it’s time to put them to the test. Either way, be prepared to ask what your requirements are for your shift.
Second, ride-alongs are not meant to be scary. The EMTs are there to show you what they know and experience on a day-to-day basis. What my mentors recommended to me was that I do what I was comfortable doing, then just a little more. I often doubted my skills in the field - I worried I didn’t have the courage to treat a critical patient. I did what my comfort level was, and then pushed myself to do small things out of my comfort zone and stopped. By doing this, I was able to build myself up from those small things I was uncomfortable with, and it came to a point where treating severely injured patients wasn’t absolutely nerve-wracking. Often times, things are not done by the book. Not every call will go exactly as the textbook says it does, so be prepared for any changes that the EMTs make to the standard, and focus on the way they make these changes. Sometimes, your teachers will say that shortcuts are not the answer, or that the correct way is by the book, but seasoned EMTs know better, and if it means shortening the amount of time it takes to save a patient’s life, then it might be useful to incorporate.
This may sound like a cheesy tip, but ask questions! You are learning not only how to do certain procedures, but why to do them as well. No matter how much you feel your question is insignificant, ask it anyway. Never assume anything. The more questions you ask, the more you’ll know. There’s a lot of stuff covered in a real-life scenario than can ever be uncovered in a textbook. Along with this, never ever lie to your EMTs. If you take a set of vitals and lie about those vitals, that can really affect the treatment of the patient and can keep medics from finding a suspected diagnosis to treat. If you can’t measure the patient’s blood pressure, say so. The medics assume you’ll make mistakes, but they won’t appreciate you lying. Similarly, you have to be able to take criticism well. EMTs will teach you hands-on skills during your shift - it’s okay to mess up a few times. Criticism from an expert is the only way you can get better at the skill.
Another tip that I learned from my EMTs in my ride-along is that when you get into the ambulance, make sure you know where everything is. You may think you look silly while doing this, but it can be really helpful when there is a seriously injured patient and you need supplies fast, and this will save you time in treating your patient. Search the jump bag, the ambulance compartments, and the cot as well to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Every ambulance is different and each EMT has their own preferences as to where certain supplies go. If an EMT asks you to grab them a non-rebreather, you know where they are.
Last, have some fun. Depending on the day, there will often be downtime that can be useful for asking questions or just to get to know the EMTs. Typically, lunch is on the go and there is (a very short) time for drinks, because, let’s face it, EMTs really need their coffee. Bring an extra snack for yourself and water as well - most shifts are 12 hours long, and the action can make you forget about your hunger and make you dehydrated.
Ride-alongs are such an unforgettable experience, and they are valuable learning tools that help you better understand the job of an EMT. Even if your class does not offer this opportunity, I recommend getting in touch with your local fire station or other private services and see what their options are. I learned a lot of skills on my ride-along that I will never forget, and gained a lot of hands-on experience that no textbook could ever give me. Either way, if worse comes to worst, you always have your ABCs.